The U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday could see a greater number of far-right candidates take federal and state office, expanding their influence over the country’s politics — which experts say would have implications for Canada.
The elections for U.S. Congress and various governors’ races are taking place amidst the most polarized and heated political climate in decades, with officials warning of a rise in the risk of violence and the potential for attempts to undermine the electoral system.
Political watchers say the rise of far-right, nationalist figures within the Republican party, many of whom have been influenced and promoted by former president Donald Trump, are largely to blame.
“Yes, there’s heated rhetoric from both (Democrats and Republicans) … but Republicans are 95 per cent of the problem,” said Matthew Lebo, a political science professor at Western University in London, Ont.
“Only one party has members and candidates who are advocating for violence and casting doubt on elections. There may be people on the left who are ideologically distant from the centre, but they’re not anti-democratic.”
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Fears about the rise in extremism and violence were reinforced Friday when an intruder broke into the San Francisco home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the top Democrat in Congress who is second in line of succession to the presidency — and allegedly assaulted her husband Paul Pelosi.
Authorities said Monday the suspect had targeted the home and was calling for “Nancy” while inside, with plans to kidnap and assault her to show other members of Congress there were “consequences to actions.” Although the attack was called “politically motivated” by San Francisco’s district attorney, the suspect’s politics have not been explicitly stated.
On the same day of the attack, however, a new domestic intelligence assessment from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other agencies warned of a “heightened threat” of extremist violence during the midterms, with the greatest danger posed by “lone offenders” fueled by election falsehoods.
Trump continues to deny that he lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, and his supporters are attempting to consolidate their power over future elections. Multiple Republican candidates for secretary of state, who would oversee elections if they win, have promised to tighten voting restrictions and even allow lawmakers to overturn results.
An analysis by the Washington Post found a majority of Republican candidates on the ballot this November — 291 in total, spread across nearly every state — have echoed Trump’s false claims of election fraud. Of those, the analysis found, 171 are likely to win their seats, while another 48 have a chance in more contested races.
Some of those candidates have not only questioned Trump’s loss, but have refused to entertain the possibility of their own defeats.
Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, for instance, refused to tell CNN last month if she would accept the election results if she lost, only repeating that she was confident she will win “and I will accept that result.”
Lebo says an expanded far-right caucus within the House of Representatives and Senate would lead to “constitutional hardball” in Congress, putting pressure on Republican leadership to support extreme tactics like attempting to impeach Biden and members of his cabinet while blocking legislation.
It could also set the stage for a disputed presidential election in 2024 where a Republican-controlled Congress refuses to certify the results — which could also be tossed out entirely if candidates like Lake gain control of battleground states — sparking a full-blown constitutional crisis.
“Scientists who are studying American politics, none of us have any idea how this ends,” Lebo said.
“All we know is that the country is in very serious trouble.”
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Experts, meanwhile, are growing concerned that the rise of the far-right in the U.S. could influence politics in Canada as well.
“(This sort of extremism) is not something that needs to be imported to Canada, but we’re certainly seeing some of the same talking points from far-right media, campaigns and so on take root here,” said Hazel Woodrow, the education facilitator for the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
She points to protests north of the border against gender-inclusive classrooms and youth-friendly drag events, which have fueled panic among the U.S. right-wing over so-called “groomers” indoctrinating children, without any evidence to support such claims.
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Hate crimes against LGBTQ2 people have been on the rise, according to Statistics Canada, which found police-reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender rose dramatically between 2020 and 2021.
A higher-than-usual number of anti-trans candidates recently ran for school board positions in municipal elections in several provinces, including Ontario and British Columbia.
But it was the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests that took over downtown Ottawa and blocked border crossings in several provinces that has sparked ongoing questions about the degree of connection between the Canadian and U.S. far-right, and what it means for Canada.
Fox News and other right-wing media in the U.S. cheered the protests on, inviting on Republican politicians like Ted Cruz to proclaim they stood with the organizers and urging viewers to donate to their cause.
Leaked donor data revealed millions of dollars given to online “Freedom Convoy” campaigns came from American sources before the money was frozen.
Livestreamers covering the convoy regularly replayed full broadcasts of Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, where the host called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “dictator” when he invoked the Emergencies Act to help police clear the blockades.
Since then, Trudeau has continued to be a target of the U.S. far-right.
On his Infowars show, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones praised “the new Canadian leader who’s set to beat Trudeau” — an apparent reference to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who supported the convoy publicly — as an example of the rise of far-right “anti-globalist” politicians.
“You look all over the world, we are rising right now,” Jones told his millions of followers last month.
About 10 per cent of Infowars‘ audience is based in Canada, according to web analytics firm SimilarWeb.
At a “Great Awakening” Christian nationalist conference in Mannheim, Penn., in October, Trudeau was included among the faces of a number of politicians and media personalities who a speaker declared would be visited by “the Angel of Death” and branded as treasonous.
“There are no borders, really, when it comes to online conspiracies like QAnon that drive many of these figures,” Woodrow said.
“The politics of Justin Trudeau are very different than the politics of Donald Trump … (whose) supporters will not abide that. This is a movement that wants to grow, and that means looking internationally as well as within their own country.”
Experts say Canadians appear more clear-eyed about the threats posed by Trump, who remains the de facto leader of the Republican party and is reportedly eyeing another presidential run in 2024.
A Leger poll in September found 72 per cent of Canadians hold Trump responsible for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol protesting his election loss, compared to just 54 per cent of American respondents.
But Woodrow says Canadian politicians need to do more to denounce the far-right — especially Poilievre, whose party appears set to gain the most politically from growing far-right sentiments.
“We are in such a moment of crisis right now that there will always be more for any single one of us to do,” she said.
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The Leger poll also found only 28 per cent of Conservative-affiliated respondents want Trump to run again. An NPR/PBS poll around the same time suggested two-thirds of Republicans would support his re-election bid.
If Trump loses again, the stage could be set for an even uglier backlash from his supporters than last year’s attack on the Capitol. An Ipsos survey in July found nearly 12 per cent of respondents said violence would be at least “somewhat justified” if it meant returning Trump to the presidency.
A CBS poll in September suggests 64 per cent of the country predicts an increase in political violence in the coming years — up from 51 per cent in January 2021.
Lebo says he shares those fears, both about Tuesday’s election and the next one.
“I’m terrified about 2024,” he said.